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What is a Dysthymic Disorder?

Madeleine A.
Madeleine A.

Dysthymic disorder refers to a type of depression that is chronic, but mild. Dysthymic disorder symptoms typically last for a couple of years. Although dysthymia symptoms may be similar to symptoms of chronic depression, they can have more of a life-altering impact because the symptoms last for so long. Typically, the patient with dysthymic disorder may experience feelings of hopelessness and lose all interest in normal activities.

In addition, patients who have dysthymia may experience profound sadness, loss of appetite and sleep problems. Frequently, trouble concentrating and difficulty in decision making are often present. Many times, the symptoms are so extreme that the patient may avoid all social interactions and activities. Generally, individuals who are diagnosed with dysthymic disorder find it difficult to experience feelings of happiness and frequently appear to experience feelings of gloom.

People suffering from a dysthymic disorder may experience feelings of hopelessness.
People suffering from a dysthymic disorder may experience feelings of hopelessness.

Causes of dysthymic disorder may include an abnormality of chemicals in the brain. Certain chemicals present in the brain, called neurotransmitters, are associated with mood and may play a significant part in dysthymia. In addition, genetic predisposition may be a factor in the cause of dysthymic disorder. Many times, this condition may be seen in family members of patients who are experiencing symptoms of dysthymia. Environmental factors can also play a role.

The word dysthymia means "melancholy" or "ill mood."
The word dysthymia means "melancholy" or "ill mood."

The exact cause of dysthymic disorder is unknown, but certain risk factors may play an important role in whether an individual develops it. Sometimes, experiencing a stressful situation or having a chronic disease can trigger this condition. Other risk factors that may trigger dysthymic disorder may include having relatives with the condition and being female.

Common treatments for dysthymia include the use of prescription medications. These medications are called antidepressants and are the same types of medications used in the treatment of depression. Frequently, psychotherapy is effective in treating this condition because it allows the patient to gain knowledge about his condition and feelings. By learning about his condition, the patient is afforded the opportunity to learn effective coping strategies and how to cope with stress.

In addition to medication and psychotherapy, there are measures the patient can do on his own that may be helpful in reducing his symptoms. These include avoiding alcohol and drugs and becoming more active. Exercise and physical activity may be very effective in reducing feelings of depression. Activities such as walking, swimming and jogging may help the patient relieve stress and allow him to experience an increase in optimism and hope.

Discussion Comments


I was diagnosed with dysthymic disorder many years ago and still deal with it. It seems my reaction to stress is to become reclusive and uncommunicative. It's a real problem. It makes me mad at myself and less willing to open up. Plus I've done things I'm not proud to admit to anyone. So it makes me even more depressed that I can't completely open up.

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    • People suffering from a dysthymic disorder may experience feelings of hopelessness.
      By: drubig-photo
      People suffering from a dysthymic disorder may experience feelings of hopelessness.
    • The word dysthymia means "melancholy" or "ill mood."
      By: Boyarkina Marina
      The word dysthymia means "melancholy" or "ill mood."